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24 People Share What Depersonalization Really Feels Like

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Like a number of mental health issues, depersonalization is a symptom that’s often shrouded in mystery. While it’s not a term we may hear all the time, depersonalization is more common than we might realize.

What Is Depersonalization?

Depersonalization is a type of dissociation that causes “a feeling of disconnection from oneself (eg, from one’s own feelings, thoughts, behavior, senses, or body),” according to Marlene Steinberg, M.D. You may feel as if you are observing yourself from outside of your body or feeling like things around you aren’t real. It’s a symptom that affects people who experience conditions ranging from depression to bipolar disorder to schizoid personality disorder or those who have survived trauma. 

Because there is so little information out there about depersonalization, it can be easy for people to fear what they do not know or understand. It’s important to remember people who experience this symptom are in need of understanding and support just like anyone else going through a health-related struggle.

We wanted to give people who experience depersonalization the opportunity to shed some light on what it really feels like, so we asked members of our Mighty community to share what their experience of depersonalization is like.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “It feels like your conscious brain has detached and you aren’t attached to your body. Everything goes dull like a filter has been turned on.” — Kate R.

2. “Feeling like I’m not me. Like I’m looking at someone else’s body and when looking at my hands I can’t grasp that they are in fact a part of me. I could stare at my self in the mirror all day and not feel like they are my eyes looking back.” — Lydia G.

3. “You feel out of your body, you just feel numb, you feel like an observer… like you’re just watching a movie or a TV show about your life that you don’t have any control over. You just feel like you’re on autopilot. You look in the mirror and see yourself and you just can’t believe it’s you staring back. Everything just feels blank.” — Tayla R.

4. “When it starts, I can feel the things that make me human start to slip away. I lose all sense of emotion, my mind goes blank, and I feel as though my body does not exist. I go through tasks and actions like a well-programmed robot, and when I speak, it’s without my own tongue. I sound lifeless. Sometimes I scream and panic in the back of my mind, but my body won’t listen.” — Amity L.

5. “It feels like you are witnessing your own life behind a glass wall, like nobody sees or hears you, but you can see and hear everything very clearly, even clearer than usual actually. You see your body move and you hear your voice talk but you have zero control over what you’re saying or doing, and then you just keep banging on the glass wall hoping someone would notice you’re not really there inside the body.” — Kira H.

6. “You feel like your body isn’t your own body, it’s something strange and distant as a vehicle you don’t drive.” — Natasha C.

7. “I once described it to a friend by painting a picture. Imagine you are swimming, it’s kind of dark. You can feel what you are doing and you feel like you. As you continue, you start to see yourself from the perspective of a passerby. You move your hands but it doesn’t feel like you’re moving them, only watching. You can stare at them all you want but the longer you do it the more foreign they become. You feel trapped in this space, like you’re outside of your body and can’t get back in.” — Venus M.

8. “Depersonalization for me feels like I’m just now realizing everything around me is life. It’s like I never noticed before. And then like that, I’m lost and I’m not even sure how I actually feel. I feel as if I’m not even here. I’m a shell amongst shells.” — Chanta R.

9. “It’s like I’m underwater. I move, but I don’t think I wanted to. My body carries me through it’s normal motions, while I try to figure out how to come back and take control.” — Jana W.

10. “Depersonalization is like another version of myself takes over and handles what I’m anxious about. I suddenly become a happier person. I laugh and joke and I’m confident. Once I’m back in a secure environment, my real self appears and pieces of what happened during that time is lost. I don’t remember what happened.” — Tamasvi G.

11. “It’s like no longer being connected to your own body. Your mind is so overwhelmed that it just detaches from reality completely. You question whether or not you’re real. Everything about you is unfamiliar. You look at your hands and wonder whose they are. It’s almost like watching a complete stranger go about their business.” — Vanessa L.

12. “In all honesty, it’s horrifying. It feels like I’m not in control of my body. I feel like I’m playing out events and there is nothing I can really do about it. There’s a slight feeling of numbness. Feeling fully aware of what’s going on, but I can’t do anything to stop it. It’s almost as though I’m playing out a cutscene and I’m just there for the ride. For me, they’re the worst kind of anxiety attack I can have.” — Toby O.

13. “Feeling like I’m locked in a glass box but the glass is dirty and fogged up so I can only partially see/understand whats going on. I feel really disconnected from everything outside of the box so much so that i start feeling disconnected from myself too because I’m shut in and things don’t make sense. I feel spacey, tired and confused and I wonder if I’m actually real. It’s like my brain feels disconnected from my body.” — Sarah C.

14. “You’re awake, but you’re trapped mostly in your head. You think you’re in reality, but a lot of time goes by, and when you feel that sudden sense of, ‘Omg, look what month we’re in already?’ You realize you haven’t really been aware. It’s a nonstop cycle.” — Cady S.

15. “For me, it feels as though I’m not really in charge of my movements or thoughts. I’m somewhere not quite beside myself, but not fully me. I start to wonder if what’s happening around me is real.”  Jes V.

16. “Several times in the last couple of years, I have looked in the mirror and legitimately didn’t know who the girl was looking back at me. I couldn’t feel my body. I felt like I was just a void. Scared the crap out of me when I would ‘snap back’ to reality.” — Jessica H.

17. “Like in one of these movies, being an alien creature just inhabiting a human body and controlling it. A strong sensation of strangeness and every move feels over-controlled.” — Stefan K.

18. “[It’s like] floating in a bubble just above my own head, puppeteering my body, clumsily, on strings. My physical sensations are dulled, except sounds, which are weirdly amplified and out of sync. I can think clearly as the me inside the bubble, but not as the me in the body. The me in the body feels distant, far away, like another person. My voice comes out but is strange and far away sounding. Everything is going too fast and too slow at the same time, people and cars loom up suddenly out of nowhere and things like traffic are unpredictable. My perception is oddly skewed making spatial awareness and proprioception difficult. I feel like I am piloting my body by remote control.” — Katy P.

19. “It’s like I’m standing just behind and a little to the left of myself. I can see and hear only me at the time. Everything else is black and silent. And if I’m in a rage, I can say and do awful things. When I come back, I remember nothing and don’t feel anything about my actions even when told how horrible I was. It wasn’t me who said/did those things.” — Caralyn R.

20. “I feel like I’m standing off to the side watching myself. But I feel nothing. Empty. No emotions or feelings, nothing. I’m watching people talk to me but I hear nothing. No sound. Everything is muted.” — Sheree S.

21. “It’s like being an alien inside your own head, but your body is a machine stuck on autopilot so you’re not controlling much of anything. You see everything, but feel nothing. And when you walk past a mirror, you avoid looking because the person you see in the reflection somehow isn’t you. It’s a hollow, unrecognizable shell of a thing you remember, but can’t connect with on any level. It’s isolating too, because even if someone else does notice when you’re going through this, there’s no way in hell they could ever truly understand or relate because they haven’t ever been through this themselves.” — Devin L.

22. “For me it was like I couldn’t focus on anything, like my whole life was a complete blur, like I needed glasses to make it clear again, as though I was there but I wasn’t. The worst thing was that I couldn’t control it. I would look in the mirror and barely recognize the girl looking back at me. You feel unconnected with reality, you just go on auto pilot. It’s really horrible.” — Kerry F.

23. “It feels like you’re playing a first-person video game. You can sort of control your actions and choose to interact with objects and people, but it’s not actually you doing or experiencing any of it. You’re just watching what happens from behind a screen, completely disconnected.” — Rowan S.

24. “It’s like the world around me is made of Lego people and the cars are Hot Wheels. It’s like I’m the child who’s in control of how fast the cars move and how the people and trees and houses are all arranged. It’s scary really. Especially because when I finally realize I’m not the one I’m control. I feel so confused about what happened and what I felt.” — Emmy P.

If you’ve experienced depersonalization, know you’re not alone. For support when you’re feeling disconnected check out the following Mighty articles:

Thinkstock photo via AnkDesign.

Originally published: August 29, 2017
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